|The Bigger Man|
|Summary:||Anneke hears Gedeon's side of 'the punch' and gives her orders.|
|Related Logs:||Victor's Spoils, Spoiled Victor, Cock of the Walk|
|Rockcliff Inn — Terrick's Roost|
|The Rockcliff Inn is one of the better inns within the town and it shows with the well-lit interior and the relative cleanliness to the other locations in Terrick's Roost. The tables are polished with oils and the floor regularly swept. A set of booths towards a darker rear of the Inn's bottom floor, just beneath the staircase, are where whores generally socialize and eye prospects from when not waiting tables. Signs over the undersized bar area advertise prices for ales and wines as well as several different choices of food to be served at the small eating area by the bar or in the main open area in its comfortable seating. A door behind the bar leads to the kitchen and cellar while another near the staircase leads to a private room that would appear to be off-limits to the 'wait staff' except for food and drink service.|
|3 November 288|
It's well before the busy hour at the Rockcliff, and so the common room is nearly empty, attended by a single serving girl and the guard chatting her up at the bar. Anneke of Oldstones is seated at a table in the corner, her tumble of dark hair pinned up thoughtlessly, appearing on the verge of tumbling back down again, her scarlet gown carelessly off one shoulder. A folio of parchment is spread before her, carefully studied, her hand absently plucking morsels from a plate of meat, cheese, and fruit to deliver to her lips. Her feet are bare, toes peeking from beneath the hem of her gown, slippers abandoned beneath the table.
It must be that news has travelled that the Steward of Oldstones is once again in The Roost. Somehow or another, word has reached Gedeon's ear that Anneke is about and can be found in the Rockcliff. He steps into the room quietly, offering only a wordless nod to the serving girl. He moves on silent feet over to where Anneke works, sidling up behind her to see if he can't slip that pin from her hair and send those dark, teetering locks toppling down.
The young knight's gambit is entirely successful — down comes the hair and around comes Mistress Steward, cool green eyes sparking ire and lips parted to deliver a withering put-down. It all melts in an instant, replaced by surprise and warmth — and a light backhand to the solar plexus. "Scamp," she smirks, rising to embrace him. "How are you, Gedeon, sweeting?"
Gedeon obliges by staggering back and making the low, groaning noise of a man properly punched, even if he wasn't. The ruse eases away into a warm smile as he accepts Anneke's hug and returns it with a squeeze of his own. "Better, now," the knight teases. "How are you, Anneke, what brings you here? Nothing amiss back home, I hope?"
She laughs, shaking her head and reaching to retrieve her pilfered hairpin. "Don't fash an old woman, Geddy," she scolds, though she's pleased for the flattery. "You could turn my head, and then where would you be?" She winks and sits, popping a blackberry into her mouth. "Sit! Are you hungry?" Even if she's not dispensing from Oldstones' larder, she can't quite resist the urge to fuss and mother. "Let me get you something to eat — Smith smite me, were you always so thin?" When his question registers, she blinks. "Oh! Didn't anyone tell you? The road's done — which changes quite a bit more than travel time."
"In a much warmer bed, come nightfall," Gedeon teases, returning Anneke's wink before setting himself down at the table. He steals a cube of cheese, content enough to steal from the Steward's plate rather than asking for one of his own. For his thinness, his smile turns wry. "Regrettably so," the knight answers. "The road is done? That's good news I hadn't heard, though it was well on its way when I fetched the traders for a trip to Stonebridge. Cut the travel time down by days, even then."
"It's opened up a world of possibilities for trade," Anneke says, duckbacking the flirtation in favor of what really gets her juices flowing. "I'm all a-flutter." She purses her lips, studying Gedeon as she reaches for her mug of small-beer. "You and Alek still not talking, then?" she wonders. "I ran into him at the Roost when I'd just arrived. I rather thought I could rely on him to pass along that I was here."
"Not just at the moment," Gedeon says cheerfully enough as he snags a berry from Anneke's plate. "Trade is good. Fluttery Stewards are good. Oldstones could do with more of both." He pops the berry in his mouth, chews and swallows. "We're for Rivverrun tomorrow. Lord Tully has summoned us to decide on the matter of my father's letters."
The steward rests her chin in her hand, elbow propped on the table, and considers the blonde young man for a few beats. "So now that the day's almost here," she ventures, "what are you hoping will come? Do you wish to succeed your father, or is some small part of you hoping it all goes to the hells? The responsibility can be daunting, even with the best castellan advising you. And since Lord Valentin already employs her, you're likely going to have to make do with second or third."
"I hope, when all is done, I'll inherit Stonebridge as my father wished, but of course some bit of me fears I'll fail at the duty I'm fighting to attain," Gedeon says. "For now, I hope Lord Tully believes in the truth of the letters and declares Isolde no heir of Lord Geoffrey's. It's the first step on the path that would leave me needing a castellan. And as you refuse to migrate, the least you can do is train one up for me."
Anneke sighs, reaching over to fondly comb back Gedeon's hair with her fingers. "It will be such a sad day when you leave us, Geddy. I'm sure even Alek's heart would break, if he had one." She tilts her head until it nearly rests on her shoulder, folding both arms on the table-top. "So what's the matter between you, anyhow? I thought the two of you got your sibling rivalry sorted out early on."
"It will be an equally sad day, if I learn I'm to remain a knight of Oldstones," Gedeon points out, ducking his head a little to better allow Anneke's fingers to curl through it. "Don't plan my farewell party just yet. There's so much to be done, and Riverrun could end it before it begins." For Alek, the blond knight frowns faintly. "If you spoke with him, I'm sure he already gave you the tale. I punched him unjustly for fairly and properly trouncing my squire to bits in the melee. I imagine that's what he told you, more or less."
"More or less," Anneke agrees with a wry smile, the backs of her fingers brushing down Gedeon's cheek as they leave his hair. "But why? And, more importantly, why haven't you made it right?" She lifts an eyebrow.
"Because Alek bites anything new that wants to shift the balance at Oldstones, even slightly," Gedeon says. "Rowan pulled a clever stunt at the joust and defended Lady Anais's honor while doing little for my own. Alek took it upon himself to remind Rowan he was no proper knight in the melee. But I'm the one who invited the boy onto the field, how does it look when another member of my own house grinds him to dust? And then the victory is shared between the three of us, after. It was… very poorly done. And sometimes Alek pays me no mind unless I bite him, back."
Anneke frowns lightly, thoughtfully. She nods, shrugging. "Alek's an ass," she allows, "but…" Not, it seems, the only one wary of shifting balances. "Is this boy you're bringing home going to be a problem, Gedeon?"
"I bring him with Lord Ser Anton's permission," Gedeon replies, "so, no, I don't believe he is."
The castellan purses her lips at the succinct reply, looking a touch skeptical. "That's not what I asked." She plucks a strawberry of her plate and takes a bite. "Well, you've bitten back. Now I think it's time you boys kissed and made up. I don't think he's going to make any overtures to that effect, considering how he whined about my lecturing him and flounced off, so it's up to you to be the better man."
"Anneke," Gedeon sighs, "being the better man in this case would mean ducking my head down and apologizing for the punch. And I can do that easily enough. But it would also mean letting Alek treat Rowan the way he treated me the first year I was a squire of Oldstones and I can't…" He stops, changes tacks. "Rowan would do poorly under that sort of tutelage."
Anneke raises her eyebrows again, this time grinning and looking down. "That's perfectly adorable," she opines. She smiles sympathetically and tenderly at the young knight. "And very sweet. But no one ever got to be a knight by being coddled and protected, Geddy. If the boy can't handle a bully, or at least suffer the indignity of submitting to one… what makes you think he's cut out for the life?"
"I am quite sure, when you said 'adorable', what you meant was 'noble and inspiring'," Gedeon remarks wryly. "There is a difference between not coddling a squire and going out of your way to grind him into the dirt. A good knight needs to stand on his own feet and suffer his slights, I'll grant you that. But he also needs to be able to put his faith in his lord, to serve him with his whole heart. A man can't do that if he spent his boyhood being betrayed by the man sworn to protect him."
Anneke snorts mirthfully. "Yes, of course. That's just what I meant," she agrees, dryly. Still, she shakes her head. "Geddy, my love, Alek's not sworn to protect him, you are, and I'm sure you're not about to betray him. And I'm equally sure Alek wouldn't let anyone beat on your boy other than himself. And Anton, of course, were Anton so inclined." She drains her mug. "Just make it right? Really. I don't care what you have to do, but if the sun's gone down on this twice — and I know it has — it's been too long."
"I'll take your sage advice under consideration," Gedeon replies, keeping a straight face. The corner of her mouth twitches. "And I'll take a few of these, too." A few more cubes of cheese and a small slice of bread get pilfered.
His hand is smacked as it retreats with the morsels of food, as though he were pilfering a meat-pie back home. "Make it right," says Anneke, narrowing her eyes a touch. "Or I will involve Anton. We're too small a house to be divided, and these tiffs can turn into grudges if left to fester." When a mother isn't taken seriously, the threat of a father must be brought to bear.
Gedeon peers at Anneke, slightly irritated, over his handful of stolen food. "Why is it you never tell Alek to be 'the bigger man'. I should start behaving like an ass. Perhaps then I'll get to do as I like without expectation of repentance, as well."
"Oh, sweet Mother with the sulking and the pouting!" cries Anneke, throwing up her hands and standing. "I never tell Alek to be the bigger man because he's incapable of it. I'm afraid there are burdens that come with being more evolved, Geddy. Get used to it." She leans over and kisses his forehead, then scoops up her folio. "Now I need to go see a man about some bees. I'll see you soon, my love." And off she sweeps to prepare for the rest of her day.
"Fare well, Anneke," Gedeon replies, gathering the rest of her plate over to his side of the table as the castellan retreats. It's not until she's gone that he blinks in confusion, twisting a little to glance towards the empty door. "…Bees?"